beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'

inside the Beijing City Library by Snøhetta 

 

Snøhetta’s Beijing City Library has opened doors for visitors as the world’s largest climatized reading space. It is the firm’s latest innovation in the library typology, thirty-five years after they began work on Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Located in Tongzhou District, the glass-lined building invites nature into the reading space and lends transparency to the enriched interior environment when viewed from outside. Moreover, it establishes the area as both a vibrant district in itself and an extension of Beijing’s urban fabric. Snøhetta was awarded the Beijing City Library in 2018 through an international competition and the project is completed with local partner ECADI. 

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'
all images © Yumeng Zhu

 

 

Reinstating the Library’s Relevance in the Digital Age

 

A decade or so ago, libraries were thought to be a disappearing typology as digitization has made information accessible at any time and place. To reinstate the library’s relevance today, Snøhetta offers a new vision for how it looks, works, and serves the community. The Beijing City Library draws focus on the physicality of a book as an object and the conscious exercise of turning the pages to take in the written word as the primary experience amidst the picturesque setting of hills, trees, and the Tonghui river.  ‘It is the love people have for books that has made libraries survive the digital age and hold new potential to give back more to the city and its public’, shares the firm’s co-founder and partner Kjetil Trædal Thorsen. ‘It is up to us to reinterpret the relationship between body, mind, and the surroundings to rekindle the joy of reading away from the screen. Libraries are here to stay.’ Drawing on the origins of libraries responding to the needs of their time and place, the building’s core purpose becomes the open exchange of ideas and human dialogue. Throughout, dedicated spaces for exhibitions, performances, conferences, and the restoration of ancient books arise. 

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'
Beijing City Library has opened doors for visitors

 

 

recalling the topology of valleys, rivers, and gingko leaves

 

At the heart of the Beijing City Library is a sweeping, nearly 16-meter-tall welcoming forum off of which rise stepped terraces along smooth, rhythmic curves. Carved through the center is a meandering pathway called the Valley, which serves as the main circulation artery of the building. The Valley mirrors the course of the nearby Tonghui river, continuing the experience of the landscape beyond and linking the north and south entrances to lead visitors to all other spaces inside. The terraced hills rising from the Valley are designed to create a sculpted interior landform that serves as the ground, seating, and shelving—an informal zone with opportunities to relax, talk, or read quietly, all while staying connected to the larger space. Semi-private reading areas and conference rooms are embedded into the hills, while book stacks and table seating are set on long, flat areas atop. This central open area is fully accessible and incorporates one of the largest book Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) in the world.

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'
nearly 16-meter-tall welcoming forum off of which rise stepped terraces along smooth, rhythmic curves

 

 

Punctuating the large space to transition between the scale of the Valley and the books are tall, slender columns that mushroom into flat panels shaped like ginkgo leaves—referencing a 290-million-year-old tree species native to China. The overlapping panels and the interstitial glass inserts create a canopy-like roof that floods the interiors with filtered daylight. Under this ginkgo canopy, one can reach the summit overlooking the valley of books and the vast horizon.  ‘The terraced landscape and tree-like columns invite visitors to lift their gaze and focus at a distance, taking in the bigger picture. This is a place where you can be sitting under a tree, reading your favorite book’, says Greenwood. ‘The Beijing City Library has an intergenerational quality about it, where you would pass on your stories to children and introduce them to the titles you’ve loved,notes Robert Greenwood, Partner and Director of Asia Pacific at Snøhetta. At the northern and southern edges, where real ginkgo trees are planted at the entry points, the hills focus their views outwards to further enhance the connection with nature.

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'
the building’s core purpose becomes the open exchange of ideas and human dialogue

 

 

a modular design driven by Sustainable Technology

 

The Beijing City Library rethinks how libraries today can address the pressing climate challenges while incorporating cutting-edge technology to improve visitor experience. The building achieved China’s GBEL Three Star, the highest attainable sustainability standard in the country, by minimizing both embodied and operational carbon. The use of modular components and a rationalized structural grid reduces the manufacturing waste for the building. For the ginkgo tree columns, a single module type is rotated on a 9x9m grid throughout the building to give the appearance of variety while being efficient to fabricate and install. These columns also house integrated technology to control interior climate, lighting, and acoustics, as well as collect rainwater from the roof to be reused for irrigation by channeling it to a green infrastructure system.

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'
tall, slender columns that mushroom into flat panels shaped like ginkgo leaves

beijing-city-library-designboom-full-3

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'
stepped terrace detail

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'

 

beijing-city-library-designboom-09

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'

beijing city library by snøhetta opens to the public, revealing sculpted 'hills' and 'valleys'
facade detail design

 

beijing-city-library-designboom-full-4
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ARCHITECTURE IN BEIJING (188)

ARCHITECTURE IN CHINA (1749)

LIBRARY ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN (257)

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